KENTFIELD, Calif. — As Lizzie Fleming approached the net, readying to leap up for a block, the Duke-bound St. Ignatius middle blocker could only watch as Marin Catholic junior Kari Geissberger wound up and fired a kill shot into the back corner of the court.
“There it goes,” she said, recalling what went through her head as the final point landed.
The final of Greissberger’s unofficial 10 kills on the night ended what had been an emotional season for St. Ignatius, which won 27 games in the debut season for head coach Jennifer Curtin. The 3-0 sweep stung even more, considering how close St. Ignatius had gotten to knocking off rival Sacred Heart Cathedral in both the WCAL final and the Central Coast Section championship.
“We didn’t get as far as we wanted to, and in past years, we’ve gone further, but it really felt like we won it this year, just because there were some matches that have just been incredible,” Fleming said. “Sure, we dropped the final one to SH, but it felt like we beat them. It’s been amazing.”
The second set on Wednesday night was a nip-and-tuck affair, with a Megan Ronan kill getting St. Ignatius up 10-6. A dink by Fleming gave St. Ignatius an 11-6 lead, and a double touch on Marin Catholic gave St. Ignatius a 13-7 margin.
Marin Catholic didn’t let St. Ignatius line up more than three serves in a row the rest of the way. A Leah Pease push-over and a block by Geissberger and Olivia Cooper helped turn the tide, and a Ronan attack error brought Marin Catholic within two.
St. Ignatius was able to keep Marin Catholic at arms length, getting to 23-21 on a Megan Lucey kill, but a kill by Cooper and an ace by Geissberger tied things up. Cooper nailed a cross-court shot to bring up set point.
A Mackenzie Honey kill try was dug out by 5-foot-5 sophomore serving specialist Bella McGirr, who was able to bump the ball back over the net. Megan Lucey’s ensuing shot was too strong, sailing out of the back of the court to give Marin Catholic the 2-0 set lead.
“We’re used to taking people all the way to the end, and either prevailing or feeling like that was our best, maximum effort, execution and all of that,” Curtin said. “I’m never questioning their effort. They’re fighters. They don’t give up until that 25th point, but I know they’re disappointed that they couldn’t get a set in there. We almost had it in that second one.”
Fleming — who finished her career with over 1,300 kills — unofficially had eight kills for St. Ignatius, but neither she nor her teammates had an answer for the 6-foot-6 Geissberger in the 3-0 loss (25-19, 25-23, 25-19), which knocked St. Ignatius out of the Open Division state playoffs in the first regional round.
“It’s been a long four years, but it’s been an amazing four years,” said Fleming, who has gone 93-34 in her three varsity seasons. “There it goes, but it was incredible.”
Geissberger, who had a team-high 108 digs on the season, used every inch of her frame to frustrate Fleming and senior outside hitter Lucey.
“I think it’s hard playing a team on their home court, and if we don’t hit our serving zones, if we miss our serve, if we don’t execute, it’s tough, and you can’t slip on a team like this,” Curtin said.
Lucey hit just .105 unofficially on the night, as Gerissberger’s length, along with that of 6-footer Cooper and 6-foot-1 Grace Olivia, proved too much to handle.
“She didn’t have our number; she actually played a great game,” Curtin said of Geissberger, who is committed to Loyola Marymount. “A 6-6 girl who can move like that, she should be doing that type of thing. She did it. That was impressive on her end. She really took care of business. She’s got those long arms, and she uses them, man. We got some great digs on her, we got some good blocks, we got her a couple times on defense, but it was more that she really maximized everything that she brings as an athlete.”
St. Ignatius lost in the Central Coast Section final to rival Sacred Heart Cathedral on Nov. 2, after getting ahead of the Irish 2-0. While St. Ignatius fought hard on Wednesday, there was admittedly a bit of an emotional let-down, especially after the CCS final loss, and losing in five sets to Sacred Heart Cathedral in the WCAL final on Oct. 18.
There were tears when Curtin, who coached the junior varsity when Fleming and the 10 other seniors were freshmen, and the team huddled up for the final time.
“I’ve coached all of these girls twice — I had them when they were either freshmen or sophomores, and now as seniors — big senior class that’s leaving us, so yeah, it is emotional,” said Curtin, who has been coaching at St. Ignatius for seven years. “They’re looking at each other, because they’ve gone through a really long journey together. They’ve seen a lot of success. They’re great leaders. They’re energy girls, so of course, we’re going to miss them.”
“It’s pretty emotional,” Fleming said. “This is your family.”